What Greece should learn from Rwandas economic turnaround

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde (C) talks with Rwanda’s Bank Governor John Rwangombwa (L) and Rwanda’s Finance Minister Claver Gatete (R) at the Ministry of Finance Building on January 27, 2015 in Kigali, Rwanda.

What Greece should learn from Rwandas economic turnaround

As a financier and portfolio manager, I pay a close attention on every single aspect of global capital market behaviour. My daily routine starts with sipping off a cup of chamomile tea at 5AM, while following European live trading along with Asias closing day numbers before I turn on my New York Stock Exchange monitors.

This first week of February has  been extremely volatile as far as Wall Street is concerned but also it brought some new key global highlights that not only have increased the level of my days adrenaline, but also have made me sit back and realise how Rwandas policy makers have outweighed their Greek counterparts.

This Friday 6 February 2015, the Standard & Poors (S&P) has downgraded the Greek sovereign bond to a B with a negative outlook—which means it could be worse. This has caught my attention—not only I am an active sovereign bonds and Credit Default Swaps (CDS) trader—Rwandas recent rating by Fitch Rating Agency was a slam dunk of a whooping B+, with a positive outlook from a B.

Question is: what happened to Greece for the past couple of decades?

In fact, what didnt Greece see coming that Rwandas policy makers anticipated beforehand? Shouldnt Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsiprass tour have been to learn from Rwanda’s finance minister Clever Gatete and central bank governor John Rwangombwa, as opposed to trying to cut a debt release deal with French president François Hollande, Angela Merkel of Germany, or Mario Draghi of European Central Bank (ECB), to name a few?

In 1995, Rwanda was struggling to rebuild. The countrys Debt to GDP ratio was at its all-time high—at 119.50 %, Rwandas cumulative debt was slightly higher than its Gross Domestic Production in 1995.

During this particular year, Greeces Debt to GDP ratio was about 126%. One would look at these two scenarios as being similar. On one hand its slightly the same as far as numbers are concerned but these two nations were different, with Rwanda’s 1994 genocide put into the equation.

Today, 20 years later, Rwandas Debt to GDP ratio is at 29.42% with an all-time low of 21% in 2008, as opposed to 175% for Greece today. The former means Rwandas debt accounts for nearly 30% of its internal gross production.

One doesnt have to be a genius to appreciate the remarkable turnaround that Rwanda has accomplished over the past 20 years. It is impressive indeed.

Today, Prime Minister Tsipras is touring Europe to reach an agreement with creditors to a €240 Billion bailout, otherwise his cash-drained-out government is even threatening to leave the Eurpean Union shouldnt the credit agreement be reached soon.

This reminds me of the saying that when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

Greece kept digging for the past two decades and it seemingly shows no intention to stop any time soon. It has been spending far more than it earns overtime. Greece has lacked similar economic policy such as Rwanda’s Kwigira, which has turned Fitch’s heads to earn a one-notch upgrade for the country.

Fitch has stated that the Rwanda economic outlook is promising due to political stability, effective business and investment approaches, increase in commodities export forecast, such as tea and coffee to name a few. The most important factor that Fitch couldnt leave out is Rwandas policy of financial independence that gave birth to the mainstream Agaciro Development Fund. Such policies would help Rwanda’s budget deficit, without digging into a much deep debt hole as now seen for Greece.

Greece didnt see this crisis coming. They didnt understand that those Eurobonds, if not backed up with effective GDP numbers, would eventually backfire. Today, most of Greece 10-year treasury bonds are due while the country cannot even afford to keep the basic internal government operations running.

With the Euro currency weakening against the US dollar, along with the Quantitative Easing that ECB just put in effect, which would weaken the Euro currency even further for the sake of deflation; the future of Greece is nearly as speculative as its Credit Default Swaps, as opposed to Rwanda which has formed a V-chart for the past two decades.

Now, what happened to this former Europe tourism powerhouse?

Why did I have to go to Brazil or the Dominican Republic for my Christmas holidays instead? Isnt it because those Greek medieval theatre stadiums havent been innovated up to par? Why does S&P has to downgrade Greece while Rwanda is upgraded? Isnt it maybe because its financial modelling formula has turned out ineffective?

Perhaps Prime Minister Tsipras should look back and probably pay a visit to the heart of Africa, to learn from Rwanda’s story, instead of letting Merkel and Hollande laugh at his face—to send him home empty handed.

The myths about Rwanda’s youth

Team members of Imagine We Rwanda and Inkstain at a recent comedy event

The myths about Rwanda’s youth

I have only been back in Rwanda for six months after almost six years of being one of the world’s weirdest nomad. Of course with social media, we tends to have very inaccurate images of our mamaland. I have heard the best and the worst about Rwanda’s youth but I really couldnt wait to just make my own judgments! So here I am back home and trying to have my good share of participation in the development of Rwanda.

So let me elaborate on the myths I heard of while I was wandering in this world.

Myth Number 1: Young Rwandans are lazy

Wrong! Of course there are some lazy human beings in every country of the world. But generalizing this behavior to all Rwandans is just very, very wrong! I have been working in Rwanda for five months now, and I have met some hardworking entrepreneurs. Can I emphasize that they are all under thirty?

I mean, I have met interior designers, computer engineers, graphic designers, illustrators, fashion designers you name it! I am amazed by the fact that these young men and women decided to pursue their dream and took the necessary risks to become as successful as they are today. And that is amazing!

My friend Dolph, who is a multitasker (read umu-TT), is just a workaholic. I worry that he doesn’t even sleep.

Rwanda is being built by these young men and women who spend restless nights to bring their best to the country. They do not only strive for success but they are addicted to it. And they are definitely challenging that myth!

Young Rwandans are not lazy. And if you fall under the lazy category, please move out of there!

Myth Number 2: Rwandans are just not creative at all

I have to admit that I used to fall for this myth when I was wandering across the earth. Rwandans are not creative, they imitate what others do, they blah blah blah… Of course, I am ashamed to say that I once believed this! And I am so glad that I was proved wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong!

I am blessed to be surrounded by creative young minds. Sometimes they make me feel like I am the worthless lazy, uncreative bum!

Just yesterday, I was talking to the manager of an interior and product design firm. I had so many questions that he probably thought I was investigating (Girl, you are crossing the borders!) Anyway, he was telling me about how he was about to open up yet another company because the business is growing and it is promising.

Of course, you might disagree with me, there is still much to be learned. But, these are young people taking the risks and seizing opportunities by the neck!

The hardest thing I have learned in life is taking risks. We all love the comfort of our comfort zones. Yet, here in Rwanda, there are young people moving earth and sky to leave their mark on Rwanda.

Myth Number 3: Young Rwandans are just not professional

Uh, really? Are you sure? This myth is one that has been spread so much that it is easier to believe in it than to even try refuting it. But I like a challenge so let me just go ahead and refute it! Yes, big yes, young Rwandans are professional and are getting even more and more professional.

Have you ever heard of organisations such as the Peace and Love Proclaimers (PLP), HeHe Labs, Live Again Rwanda, Inkstain, or Ejo Group  the list goes on. Seriously, if you haven’t please do check them out and spend ten minutes with them; you’ll see what I mean.

Professionalism is one of the key ingredients to success. Can we agree on this? It involves the ability to have a clear vision of what an organisation needs to portray and also where it needs to go. It involves having the right skills and expertise to move an idea forward! How about that?

Do I think that the Rwandan youth has the above? Yes, I certainly do! If Rwanda is growing, it is definitely because there is some amount of professionalism. And, yes, thank you!

I strongly believe in our youth today. I am so proud of what we are doing and what we desire to build for our country! I also believe that Rwanda is the country of a thousand opportunities and the smart ones will enjoy the fruit of the land!

The truth is, you still can be Inkotanyi

One of the frustrations and big dream at once, in the generation commonly referred to as DotCom, is to have missed the Ku Mulindi moments. The generation DotCom is the one which was too young to be actively part of the liberation struggle but too old to have missed the saga surrounding the stories that came with 1st October 1990. So it is not uncommon to hear DotComs saying: I would have joined Inkotanyi. But is it too late?

The enemy that defines us

Fortunately, Habyarimana’s regime has disappeared from the daily lives of Rwandans, expect some bitter expectations of divisionism and terrorist acts, the life of Rwandans is no longer determined by the fear materialized through quota to access public services, indembo yaba-gendarmes, Uzi icyo ndi cyo, interdiction de travailler, laissez-passer, arbitrary arrests and killings to name a few avatars of the boat of mediocrity led by Habyarimana.
What determines the lives of ordinary Rwandans today is a much more scattered enemy than a regime denying its citizen the basic rights, such as the right of citizenship. Rwandans today are preoccupied by eradicating poverty through socio-economic development. The outside world has already started to brand Rwanda according to this apparently new struggle, although sometimes with old models such as the legendary obedience to authority as source of efficiency. Rwandans have not joined the chorus, unlike other moments in our history where we used to define ourselves in the prism of the conquering colonials; we have liberated our minds and are seeking to define ourselves not to join someone else’s ride.
United like at no other moment of our recent history, we stand before the task of building a wealth that will outlive our grandchildren. This task requires from us to be deployed at different fronts with success stories measured alongside increased prosperity. Certainly, both internal and external factors that have led to the surrender of our sovereignty are still looming, but this first line of defence does no longer define us. What defines us is the struggle to become a middle income country by the year 2020. The question then is: how and what are the Ku Mulindi moments of this struggle?

Imihigo- identified by results

The Ku Mulindi moments will be more about shared prosperity than shared hardships, however the quest for prosperity is no less a struggle than the quest for sovereignty. Asked what makes the difference between a good RPF cadre and professional, many DotCom seem to stumble. Yet there is a difference between good performance and innovation. For a good RPF cadre, it is a necessary condition to be a good professional but it is not a sufficient one. A Good professional carries tasks to his best aptitude; while a good cadre is a leader constantly reaching out for Rwanda’s best against any odds. A good cadre meets the expectations of what Rwandans deserve not what circumstances allow them to do. The difference between a professional and a cadre’s ambition is like the difference between value addition and value creation. Value addition is about more efficient process and productive use of inputs, while value creation is about using ideas and knowledge to invent new ways of doing things or new products. In concrete terms, the core defining our performance contract with prosperity will be about: creating more jobs, generating more revenues and a high rate of projects implementation. A good professional in civil service ought to be measured against these key performance indicators. However, they are not enough for Rwanda to be competitive and thus to survive without fear of alienation.

We will need to be innovative to bridge the gap between our ambition and means. Thus, the Ku Mulindi moments of nowadays are to be found in our homegrown solutions, where Made in Rwanda creates global values. The Ku Mulindi moments will be found in modern infrastructure across the country with air-railways and electronic highways connecting our creativity to the rest of the world. They will be found when our agro-processed products reach the shelves of international supermarkets. They will be found when our good governance credentials will translate into manufacturing safety-sensitive products and increased tourism revenues. They will be found when Rwanda will be known as a hub for sophisticated post-graduates programs offered by renowned universities such as Carnegie Mellon, MIT and the Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics. The Ku Mulindi moments will be found when we shall no longer live with the paradox of lacking running water in the great lakes region. They will be found when will have industrial parks equipped with sufficient energy and know-how.

Staying the course

As in old days, the quality of our leadership is our strongest asset. Out of a rebellion, the Commander in Chief has built the 5th largest peacekeeping force worldwide. Out of a nation marked by mass-graves, orphans and abused widows, he built a nation with mass eradication of poverty and the most empowered young and female leadership worldwide. Out of a social contract based on exclusion, arose a social contract putting individual dignity as rationale for all forms of State power. Unlike previous generations, our generations of Inkotanyi have a starting point, a proven ideological framework and a tailwind of RPF achievements.

Today, you can literally take Rwanda to the bank, as proven by the overly subscripted Eurobond. For sure we shall need to constantly innovate, find new expressions of Rwanda in a changing world, but our mode of operation will remain one of Inkotanyi: we shall think big, remain united, and be accountable to each other and future generations. We shall not shy away from taking risks; we shall be daring and creative, seeing opportunities in hardships just like the past 20 years under the leadership of President Paul Kagame. We no longer need to seek for parenthood, we have found our nation again. A nation that is radically open to the world to avoid being surprised again by unwarranted visitors at mount Kageyo. Our generation will above all need to stay the course of thinking big, staying united and keeping each other accountable. As the saying goes, Imfura nzima isubira mw’izina rya se.

It is not too late. Truth is, you still can be Inkotanyi.

East Africa Single Visa: One Step In The Right Direction

East Africa, a region recognized as a successful global location for mobile payments and a thriving online space, is embracing technology advancement as part of its growth plan for diverse sectors. The newly recently launched East Africa Single Visa is intended to scale up tourist arrivals in EAC member states; Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. This multinational-travel certificate which costs $90 will grant tourists a 90-day validity period with no room for extension.

Although termed as ‘long-haul destination’, one cannot stop wondering why, with massive cultural and natural resources, Africa continues to lag behind in recorded tourist visits. According to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council, of the one Billion tourists who travelled in 2012, only 50 million were destined for Africa, where East Africa only managed to scoop 5 million (1 percent) of the bound-for-Africa travelers. “We need to re-package ourselves” quipped Waturi Matu-Coordinator for East African Tourism Platform in an interview with Jovago.com, a leading online hotel booking platform in Africa. Ms. Matu explains that this revamping process would start with the leadership, down to stakeholders and the African Media, “Africa has suffered blanket misconceptions for a long time. We are yet to carry ourselves from the gripping grief of the term ‘dark continent’. Africa needs to tell her own story, and let the world know that beyond the crisis (that exist in every other nation) there exists vast stretches of unique culture, wildlife, flora and fauna, business opportunities and untapped resources.”

Having spearheaded the campaigns that saw three of EAC member states sign the Single Tourist Visa during the 2013 World Travel Market, Waturi notes that opening borders and removing entry point hurdles is a first step in catapulting both international and intra-regional tourism. Although Tanzania had earlier objected to the Agreement citing security reasons, they have since expressed interest which will result in either of these two scenarios as explained by Waturi: They request to be included in the current Northern Corridor arrangement (The cost and formula for revenue sharing would have to be revised to reflect the new entrant) and the interest is brought to the attention of the EAC Secretariat where all EAC countries meet and agree on an implementation framework, determine cost and formula for revenue sharing and sign agreement. Option B would be most appropriate and a true reflection of regional integration. Burundi, she says will be joining at a later date, “we must not rush member states as each country is at different levels, both in infrastructure and technology.

Apart from opening the borders for regional tourism, the agreement also allows immigration authorities to recognize National Identification Documents as passports for the EA Community, which fairly levels the playground for both tourists and tour operators